Cable broadband purveyor Virgin Media has upped the ante by announcing a trial of 200Mbps broadband — four times faster than its current fastest fat pipe service.
The company said it will use the trial to assess the commercial viability of deploying a 200Mbps service in the UK and to investigate the kind of applications consumers could use regularly in such a speedy future.
Around 100 'pilot customers' will eventually be involved in the trial, which started last week in Ashford, Kent, and will run for at least six months. The ISP claims it is the fastest implementation of DOCSIS3 technology (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) in the world — faster even than cable services in Japan and the US, which have 160Mbps and 101Mbps, respectively.
Possible next-gen broadband apps could include HD and 3D TV entertainment services, remote delivery of IT support to home users, videoconferencing and home surveillance, according to the ISP.
At the end of last year, Virgin launched its current fastest 50Mbps service — still the fastest consumer broadband service available in the UK. However, BT has been making noise on the speed front - pledging to roll out fibre to 10 million homes by 2012, enabling speeds of up to 100Mbps and opening up the possibility that Virgin could be lose its headline-speed crown.
Ian Fogg, principal analyst at Forrester Research, told ZDNet UK's sister site silicon.com that while he doesn't believe Virgin will be offering a commercial 200Mbps service anytime soon, the company is nevertheless firing "a shot across the bows" of DSL providers to let them know it has more to offer.
"Virgin Media is clearly positioning around the speed of its broadband service and they're looking to make hay while the speeds of their rivals using DSL are limited by the copper telephone line," said Fogg.
"Virgin Media are shaking up the UK broadband market. They're looking to increase [consumer] dissatisfaction with speed."
But the analyst said the trial is not just about posturing: "There's a genuine piece of work to be done here," he said, adding: "It's all very well testing something in the lab but actually giving even a small number of consumers this service into their homes will deliver different information, different feedback."
One area where the trial could well shine a light in Fogg's view are on 'bottlenecks' lurking elsewhere in the network.
"You get a point where the web servers, the general speed of the internet becomes the bottleneck, not the connection into someone's house. And I would expect that 200Mbps would reveal those bottlenecks elsewhere," he said.
"How fast a particular service is depends on all sorts of things — the speed of the web server to deliver the web page, the speed of the connection of that web server on to the internet, the connection across the internet, the connection through that internet service provider's network and then there's the connection into the house… and of course there's the connection inside the house."
Fogg added that Wi-Fi routers can't currently support 200Mbps — so wireless home networks would also constrain users' speed dreams.